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Buying and renovating a property in Portugal

Jamie and Constance on beach in Foz

Andrea moved to Portugal from the UK with her husband, Omar, in October 2020.  They had been coming to Portugal for about 10 years, because Andrea’s sister lives there. Before Covid, they bought a Portacabin size container, which they put on their sister’s property, to be used as a guest house by the couple and other visitors.

Living and working in the UK, their lives changed drastically during Covid.  The couple had been running a tour company for language students, for 11 years, but during the pandemic, they had to close, and during lockdown, they decided they wanted to move to Portugal.

They bought a piece of land near Coimbra, where they are currently renovating a wreck of a house.  The project is likely to take up to five years, so Andrea and Omar moved the container on site, and that’s where they’re living while they renovate the house!

Renovating a property

Buying property in Portugal, even as a foreign investor, is fairly straight forward.  However, you should always contract a lawyer to ensure the purchase is legal, and if you’re planning to renovate a building, talk to the council about your plans, before you purchase.

The house Andrea and Omar have bought is a ruin. It’s a 100 year old stone house that has an outbuilding, which was used previously to house animals. Their plan is to convert the house and make it livable again, but right now it’s a shell without even a kitchen a toilet. It needs a lot of work. This will be the third house they’ve renovated, and the first in Portugal, but they admit, they’ve never worked on a project this big before.

Know what you want from a property

First of all, Andrea and Omar thought about what they wanted and what they didn’t want from the move and from the place they were dreaming of living in. That’s a really important thing to do. Consider whether you’re buying a place to live, or a place to rent out. If you’re going to live there, what do you want from your location? If you’re going to rent it out as a vacation home, consider its marketability. And be realistic about how much time and effort you want to put into renovating.    

“For us, we knew we wanted to live in Portugal for at least five years. We didn’t want to be too isolated.  We didn’t want to be in the valleys, because it tends to be very cold there.  We did a lot of research about what kind of place we wanted to be in and then visited 15 properties, which is quite a lot, but it’s the only way to be able to decide what’s right and what’s not.”  

As soon as they saw the old house on a hill, close to Coimbra, they knew it was the place they wanted.  They didn’t only like the house, but the neighborhood too.

“We fell in love with the location. This site is great for us, because it’s very green. There’s a lot of water, unlike in the Algarve where it’s really dry.  And the property is amazing.  It’s very close to the city of Coimbra, but we are surrounded by rivers and countryside, so we really get the best of both worlds.”  

How to find the property of your dreams

Have a good look at the different areas and find out what is a good price for the area and the property.  Andrea and Omar, like a lot of people, started by looking on property websites like Idealista, which is a really popular site for property in Portugal.  They wanted to find the newest properties available, so they contacted local real estate agencies and found a few to work with directly.  Andrea told us that they also used some fairly unconventional approaches:

“One great thing to do is go to a local cafe in the area where you want to live, because there are always cafes in the local villages.  Often, they know which properties are available and they know the owners, so you can connect with them directly and find a really good deal.  It’s a good way to meet the locals, especially if you can speak some Portuguese.”

The other thing to have in mind is your budget.  Both Andrea and Omar had wanted to invest in a new property, and Portugal was better value than the UK, where they were living before the move.  They were able to make the purchase for just 30,000 euros.

The legal requirements for buying and renovating property in Portugal

Andrea recommends the following when considering buying a property in Portugal for renovation.

  1. Check with the council before you buy a property for renovation. If you're not significantly changing the footprint or the look of a building, you can quite easily get a permit from the council. In Portugal, the council is known as câmara. It's worth taking some photos when you meet with the council and talk to them about what you'd like to do with the property. The law is the same everywhere in Portugal, but different councils interpret the law differently, so always have the conversation.
  2. Check the habitation license before you buy. In Portugal, the habitation license confirms that the council has inspected the property, and it complies with the plans and building regulations. However, older properties often have an exemption certificate, because they were built before construction regulations were in place. You need one of these two documents before you buy. Older properties with an exemption certificate are popular with investors for renovation.
  3. Get a really good lawyer! Finding a lawyer is not easy, so look for and ask for recommendations. Lawyers who get good reviews from other foreign investors are the lawyers to speak with. You will find recommendations on plenty of expat Facebook groups.

Buying a property

You should always take advice before buying a property and this is not a complete guide to the process, but here are some important tips from Andrea.

  1. Get the property plans and check them. You may have to be patient in Portugal, as things do take time, but make sure to get the plans of the property you want to buy, and if you can, walk the boundary yourself and speak with the neighbors to check there are no surprises post-purchase. Your lawyer will also help you with this.
  2. Get the property's energy certificate. Every property in Portugal is legally required to have an energy certificate. Certificates are valid for 10 years. When you receive the certificate, have your lawyer double check that it is correct and valid, and consider what the energy rating means for the renovation you're planning.
  3. Don't forget your NIF. Even if you're investing in property and not planning on living in Portugal full-time, you will need to get a tax number, or NIF, as they are known in Portugal. There are a few companies who can help with this (Bordr is one of them!) and the process, as Andrea mentioned, is a fairly quick and easy one.

Expect a few challenges

Any move to a new country, comes with a few challenges, and for each person, their experience is different. Certainly, for Andrea and Omar, their biggest challenge has been moving from a three bedroom detached house to a six by two and a half meter container - literally a tiny home!

Andrea has found driving very different from the UK.  She has noticed that in Portugal, not everyone follows the rules and some people do tend to speed, so she’s learning to adapt to that.

Spanish is Andrea’s native language, so she has found the move to Portuguese easier than her husband, Omar, who is an English speaker.  Her recommendation? “When you are learning a language, you have to throw yourself in the deep end and talk, and gradually you will learn.”

They admit that in general, there have been far more positives than negatives.

“We moved to Portugal, because having visited the country, we really like the sense of community here and how open people are.  The move has been positive for us.  We love the weather.  The people and the food are great.”

Although the food in Portugal is excellent, they do miss the variety of different restaurants that they became accustomed to, living in a city in the UK.  However, they are noticing that there are a lot more vegetarian options being offered in supermarkets over the last couple of years.  Andrea says that in the more touristy areas, the range of food can be a lot more varied, so for example in Lisbon and Porto.

Andrea’s recommendations for buying property and renovating property in Portugal.

  • Decide what you want from the property you’re going to buy.
  • Visit as many places as you can and talk to the locals in the neighborhood.  You may even find they know owners who are looking to sell properties.
  • Make sure to do the legal paperwork. Find a good lawyer to help advise you on what you will need to do during the purchase.
  • Speak to experts and talk to the local council about your plans, before you purchase a property for renovation.
  • And enjoy the process of living in a new country that welcomes people from other cultures!

Andrea and Omar have a YouTube channel, on which you can find out more about their renovation project.  They’re documenting what they’re doing, their progress and challenges, so people can learn from their experience. Take a look at The Indigo Escape.

Jenny Teasdale
May 20, 2022

Jenny Teasdale

Blog Author